Reactions to the German high court's decision to allow individual federal states to charge tuition fees have been mixed since judges declared the law banning the imposition of fees unconstitutional on Wednesday.
Will German universities become the domain of the affluent elite?
The Federal Constitutional Court ruling was met with reserved celebration from the opposition conservative parties. That's because Wednesday's decision overturns the ban introduced by the Social-Democrat-led government to prevent conservative-led states from charging tuition fees, which the government argues violate the principle of equal opportunity for all social strata.
"The (tuition fees question) is still open but it is clear that this money will now remain with the universities and will not flow into the government's budget," Christian Social Union leader and Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber said.
The conservative view was echoed by the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) whose educational spokesperson Katherina Reiche welcomed the judgment and the opportunities it presented to increase competition and the quality of instruction.
Greens dedicated to education for all
But Green Party faction chief Christa Sager lamented the decision, stating that many families of students as well as the students themselves already have to find about half the money it costs to do a university degree in Germany. She added that the decision could severely hamper efforts to get more people into higher education.
"We remain committed to the idea of free tuition. We must raise the university enrollment numbers in the interest of all the pupils in Germany. We must continue to build bridges across all the levels of education in our system," Sager said.
For the Social Democrats education minister Edelgard Bulmahn (picture), the decision is a slap in the face. Bulmahn, a strong advocate of the party line on tuition fees, appealed to the federal states to refrain fromcharging for education. Bulmahn called on the states "not to act rashly but to make sure that pupils from lower income families can still study in our country."
Federal states planning fees introduction
The call has already fallen on deaf ears with Bavaria, Baden Württemberg and Hamburg all announcing that fees will be introduced as soon as possible. Baden Württemberg's CDU Premier, Erwin Teufel, said that he would make a decision on the introduction of fees on Feb. 1.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the state's SPD leader, Kurt Beck, conceded that in the future, universities in the state could only offer free tuition to students from the area. Students from outside the state would have to pay. Beck said he would be looking into the possibility of introducing fees as soon as possible but would have to examine all the options open to him.
High standards: worth paying for?
Students have already taken to the streets.
The German press was also divided in their editorials. Some papers, such as the tabloid Bild Zeitung defended free education saying that fees would see Germany become another "purveyor of education," with many potential students put off by rising costs. "The state must above all help those who really need help," it concluded.
Other papers, the daily Die Welt among them, saw the decision as a positive turning point in the German education system, arguing that Germany has to be prepared to pay for a quality. The new "survival of the fittest scenario" is progress, Die Welt said, as with the death of weaker universities, only the best and most worthwhile institutions will be around to educate German students.